The cruel answer

The Grand Rapids Press jumps ahead of a bill in Lansing, and recommends a package of bills that would dissolve insolvent school districts such as the notorious case of Buena Vista, outside Flint. These districts had it coming because they have been “irresponsible.”

It’s irresponsible for school districts to decide to close their doors early because they’ve run out of cash.
In fact, it’s irresponsible to run out of cash, even in a time of continued enrollment declines, which reduces state aid. Good leaders know how much money they have to spend and plan accordingly, even if that means painful cuts or finding innovative ways to do things.

Well, maybe.

Consolidation and charges of irresponsibility are something of  a cruel response, given Lansing’s own actions.

The record of stress on the school districts is rather well documented. With few exceptions (GRPS being one) most districts have actually seen their level of financial stress increase in the past four years, sometimes dramatically. This is available on the Citizens Research Council dataset. The notion that school districts have suddenly been afflicted with inability to make decisions is at best half a story. A more complete discussion would also include the questions as to the source of this stress, and here the Republican party must bear the blame with its policies of tax cuts and compensating revenue shifts away from education generally, and the local schools in particular. Second, the other determining factor has been that of declining enrollment, driven by both economics (Recession) and school choice.

What is true, is that with small districts the combination of declining enrollment and shorted funds can be especially dangerous. This was noted earlier this year by State Superintendent Tom Flanagan.

 At one point, talking about relatively small districts with declining enrollment, Flanagan said “you’re smoking something” if possible consolidation isn’t part of the discussion.  “I just think if you’re (at) 400 (enrollment) and sinking and you don’t try to find a dance partner next door,

But if the small school district can’t do it by itself, what’s the solution? The proposed county-wide consolidation is hardly the magic bullet The Press thinks it to be. Rather it is the classic kick the can down the road: a vote for the status quo in the guise of actually doing something —  no one imagines Kent County consolidating.  It’s a polite washing of one’s hands. A bolder press would be taking the Republican policies to task for deliberately jeopardizing the future of Michigan’s children with its lamentable combination of revenue shifts and half-baked reforms on the cheap.


Culture buildling as a political act

Matthew Lee Anderson takes stock of the election,

What people want is not handwringing when things don’t go “our way,” but hope.  And a sober and serious assessment of how things look along with something like a strategy to turn them around that stays true to our principles.  Or maybe I speak too broadly.  So let me narrow the scope:  that is what want from an evangelical leadership, not the sort of handwringing that we are currently experiencing.

Still, it’s not as if Evangelicals will abandon the Republican Party. The first reactions are less about policy than they are about disappointment and real grief. And in understanding  that this still part of a grieving process, several points come to mind.

As political scientists will remind us, political identity is rather stable; culturally evangelicals will continue to be a part of the Republican coalition, particularly in the South. That cultural identity is a trap as to the real transformational goals of the faith community (and this is what I hear you struggling towards). In this light, Evangelicals face something of a choice whether to reinforce this cultural and political identity, that is to take part as a political community, or to take part in something akin to culture-making.

I would opt for the culture making approach.

Evangelicals in the last election voted more intensely GOP than in 2008. If there is an electoral failure, it is not for their not trying. What is missing is their ability to find allies in the center. Here, the deep cultural identity as a wing of the GOP played against them, particularly in the polarized electorate and an election framed as a cultural war, a war the Right lost (per Jonathan Chait).

To advance a transformational approach will it seem, call for different approaches than those previously advanced. At the least, as you suggest, it calls for something like a cheerful engagement. I would suggest that you especially pay attention to Peter Leithart’s concern for justice; a second place to turn would be the sober approach of Alan Jacobs’ thinking on information deficits and global warming.

And Leithart is right in this also: culture making can only take place in the context of a deep faith in the sovereign God who claims our lives at the Cross. Sovereignty and sacrifice walk together, indeed are the proper fuel for hope. But if such hope were easy, we would have it already, wouldn’t we?

Making the Voting Booth SAFE

Dave Murray 

LANSING – Americans serving overseas in the military would be able to more easily cast absentee ballots for local and state elections under a bill introduced this week by state Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes.
HB 5297 is backed by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and is headed for committee debate possibly as soon as next week, a state House Republican spokesman said.

Seems ironic that we make it easier for the soldier to vote, but harder for other citizens to register and vote. Ok, maybe not ironic since we’re talking about republicans.